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Cramming for Zingers at the Debates: Five Reads Monday

| October 1, 2012

The Nine. They reconvened today. See the article by Lionel Caplan, ‘The Most Conservative Supreme Court,’ in today’s Times.

First Monday in October: The U.S. Supreme Court’s “coming term will probably include major decisions on affirmative action in higher education admissions, same-sex marriage and a challenge to the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those rulings could easily rival the last term’s as the most consequential in recent memory. The theme this term is the nature of equality, and it will play out over issues that have bedeviled the nation for decades. “Last term will be remembered for one case,” said Kannon K. Shanmugam, a lawyer with Williams & Connolly. “This term will be remembered for several.” The term will also provide signals about the repercussions of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s surprise decision in June to join the court’s four more liberal members and supply the decisive fifth vote in the landmark decision to uphold President Obama’s health care law. Every decision of the new term will be scrutinized for signs of whether Chief Justice Roberts, who had been a reliable member of the court’s conservative wing, has moved toward the ideological center of the court.” From The Times.

How Obama and Romney Cram for the Debates: With more than 50 million people watching and the presidency at stake, the candidates will meet for their first debate on Wednesday at the University of Denver, and both are cramming like college students before an exam. But it is not enough to pore through the voluminous briefing books. Victory may come down to a single exchange, or a single impression, an answer that comes off as too edgy or, conversely, as too long-winded. Mr. Obama’s team records his practices to sharpen his responses so that they connect on a more visceral level with the television audience. One of Mr. Romney’s aides calculated his words-per-minute rate in the primary campaign debates to break him of the habit of feeling that he needs to rattle off the most statistics. Mr. Romney’s team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August. His strategy includes luring the president into appearing smug or evasive about his responsibility for the economy.” From The Times.

Mitt Romney doesn’t need new zingers. He needs new policies: The idea that this election can be reshaped by a zinger speaks to a deeper problem in the Romney campaign’s fundamental view of the race. As they see it, Obama’s record is an obvious disaster and their job entails little more than pointing that out over and over again. That the polls haven’t seemed responsive to this theory hasn’t dissuaded them. The new explanation for Romney’s difficulties is that the media is in the tank for Obama and that’s why the Romney campaign’s message isn’t breaking through. But during the debates, voters will see the two men on a stage together, with no media filter, and that could change everything. After the first debate, says Romney surrogate Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), “this whole race is going to be turned upside down.” That’s the kind of thinking that leads you to pepper your debate prep with zingers. But it’s also the kind of thinking that’s losing this race for Romney. The American people know the economy is bad. In poll after poll, pluralities say they’re worse off today than they were four years ago and majorities say the country is on the wrong track. And yet Obama leads anyway. The reason Obama is ahead is that voters, much to the surprise of the political consultant class, seem perfectly able to hold two seemingly contrary ideas in their head at the same time. They both think that things today are pretty bad and that things today would be worse if Obama hadn’t been president.” From the Washington Post.

Why I stopped encouraging students to become teachers: “America needs dedicated and competent schoolteachers. And teaching still is the noblest profession. However: Don’t become a teacher to earn a high salary, because you never will. You become a teacher to touch the lives of children, to make a positive contribution to their futures, to literally save some of them from their dysfunctional homes and neighborhoods. […] Why, you ask, would I want to become a teacher under these ugly conditions? Why? Teaching is our most important profession. It is a calling, and excellent teachers are some of our greatest heroes. That’s why. I dropped this spiel more than a decade ago. Now I wouldn’t try to encourage a student to become a public school teacher in this toxic environment. Even a lot of people who don’t hold teachers in contempt easily speak the popular rhetoric of disrespect. With perhaps the exception of anti-intellectual Australia, the United States is virtually alone in the world in being profoundly contemptuous of its schoolteachers. The negative results — vengeful layoffs and firings, increased class loads, evaluations based on unreliable standardized tests, and the hurry-up establishment of charter schools and vouchers — are damaging the profession beyond repair.” Bill Maxwell in the Tampa Bay Times.

Will The New York Times Survive?
“The passing of Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger is truly a “The king is dead” moment, because he headed a clan that for more than a century has been the most enduringly powerful family in the nation, if not the world. The dynasty began in 1896 with the purchase of The New York Times by Punch’s grandfather, Adolph Ochs. Since that time, this singularly influential news organization has been not simply owned by also but run by the Ochs/Sulzberger family. A family member has always been in the top position of publisher. […] Punch did not become head of the family when he took over as publisher in 1963. That didn’t happen until 1990, when his mother, Iphigene—Adolph Ochs’s daughter—died. She was a small woman but a towering figure who had made it her life’s work to inculcate her children and grandchildren with the importance of their stewardship of the TImes, and the notion that they must support whoever was representing the family at the company’s helm. They must stand together as a family and preserve this sacred trust. To this end, the members of the family did such remarkable things as voluntarily signing covenants that make it all but impossible for the Times company to be acquired by a hostile takeover. The family’s control of the company is secured by their ownership of a special category of stock that elects a majority of the company’s board. Any family member wishing to sell this special stock must first offer it to other family members or convert it to the ordinary stock that is available on the New York Stock Exchange. Giving up the power to sell this powerful voting stock outright cost the family an estimated billion dollars in the premium the stock would have brought on the open market. They signed the covenants after about a 20-minute conversation. As Iphigene famously said, “We are not a family to own yachts.” It has never been about money.” Alex Jones in the Daily Beast.

Flagler County Jail bookings, Sept. 28-Oct. 1, 2012

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